The X-Men Failure That Rescued The Franchise And Saved Marvel

By Zack Zagranis | Published

Between the trailer for the upcoming Disney+ series X-Men ’97 and the Deadpool & Wolverine teaser—currently the most-watched trailer in YouTube history—the X-Men are the hottest they’ve been in at least a decade. For non-comic fans, the nostalgia for Marvel’s Merry Band of Mutants stems from either the ’90s animated series or the first few live-action movies. However, they both owe an unmeasurable debt to the failed 1989 animated pilot Pryde of the X-Men.

Pryde Of The X-Men Was A Failed Pilot

In 1989, Marvel produced Pryde of the X-Men, a pilot for a potential X-Men cartoon that ultimately went nowhere. A big reason for that might have been the famously Canadian Wolverine inexplicably having an Australian accent, but that’s just our guess. Another could be the franchise’s status at the time, which was, while on the upswing, a niche of a niche.

Set The Stage For Bigger Adaptations

Pryde might not have set the world on fire, but like so many other historical one-offs, such as the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks or Operation Ivy’s Energy, its inspiration for future projects cannot be ignored. A direct throughline can be drawn from the underwhelming ’89 animated pilot to the much more successful Fox X-Men series, which undoubtedly led to Hugh Jackman’s first outing as Wolverine.

The X-Men Were B-Tier Heroes

For readers under 30, it might be hard to imagine a world where the X-Men weren’t a known commodity, but prior to the ’90s, that’s exactly what they were. While kids in the ’70s and ’80s were playing with Spider-Man toys and running around in Hulk Underoos, no one but the most hardcore comic geek knew what the heck an X-Man was. The only mutants kids in the Reagan decade were aware of were green and had shells. This is despite the fact that the X-Men debuted right around the same time as both Spidey and the Incredible Hulk in the early 1960s.

A Major Gamble

The X-Men would probably still be toiling away in obscurity if it weren’t for Margaret Loesch diverting funds from the RoboCop animated series to make Pryde of the X-Men on the sly. It was Loesch’s work on and subsequent failure with Pryde that led her to pitch an X-Men cartoon to Fox Kids in 1992. Loesch was so sure it was Pryde’s execution that failed and not its concept that she bet her career on the success of the Fox show.

The Iconic Arcade Game

Meanwhile, tie-in products created for the expected-to-be-a-hit Pryde of the X-Men included a wave of 1991 Toy Biz action figures and, perhaps more importantly, the 1992 Konami arcade game that predated the Fox show by seven months. While the X-Men cartoon may have also debuted in 1992, if you don’t think an entire summer full of out-of-school young’uns popping quarter after quarter into an arcade cabinet is enough to raise the public profile of a bunch of superheroes, you’re sadly mistaken.

The Breakthrough Years Later

Between the toys and the game, the X-Men were able to break into the mainstream just enough to ensure that when the X-Men animated series debuted on Fox, a legion of pixie-stix-guzzling, hyperactive kids were already champing at the bit for some sweet, sweet, X-action. Pryde of the X-Men inspired more than just products, however. It also set the precedent of having a young mutant join the team for the first time to act as an audience surrogate.

Kitty Pryde Is The Best X-Man

The Pryde of the X-Men pilot revolves around young mutant Kitty Pryde, AKA Shadowcat, joining the team, giving viewers an accessible introduction to Marvel’s uncanny mutants and the world they inhabit. Meanwhile, the beloved Fox animated series begins with the two-parter “Night of the Sentinels,” in which Asian-American teen Jubilee joins the X-Men, essentially filling the same role. The 2000 live-action X-Men movie would do the exact thing this time using an aged-down Rogue.

The Most Popular Team In The World

We’re not implying that no one would ever have discovered the X-Men without Pryde of the X-Men, but if the failed pilot never existed, they certainly wouldn’t enjoy the popularity they do today.